Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hot Pocket Virgin No More

The Croissant Pocket

A few weeks ago, or maybe it was a couple of months ago, some friends and I were chatting and the subject of Hot Pockets came up. They discussed the ones they liked and the ones they hated, and when it came to me, I came up short.

I've never eaten a Hot Pocket in my entire life.

They looked at me like I was Brother From Another Planet. How could the modern 21st Century Man exist in the world without eating a Hot Pocket? Didn't I watch Robotech, Star Wars and Ferris Bueller? I wasn't living under a rock. I wasn't a refugee from some Third World nation, I was an American dammit and how come I never had a Hot Pocket before???

I just never did.

I mean, I've seen the tv commercial hundreds of times but nothing about it appealed to me. While I'll sit down with a plate of McDonald's french fries on any fourth hour, the notion of eating frozen processed foods just isn't appealing to me. Maybe I had one too many bad experiences with Hungry Man tv dinners when I was younger or the nightmares of Swanson Salisbury Steak, but I just didn't have it in me.

Fast forward to Monday.

It's early Monday morning and I'm searching through the local Super Fresh trying to figure out what I want to eat this week at the shop. George Foreman and his Grill are waiting and I'm trying to find something more creative than sausages. I failed. So, in addition to the milk, croissants and hot bar breakfast (eat THAT Wegman's), I spied the frozen food section and noticed the Croissant Pockets in Philly Cheese Steak stuffing. I decide that I'm going to try that for lunch this week and rid myself of the stigma of being the last of my generation to eat a Hot Pocket.

It's now Wednesday evening and I've just finished the last (there were only two) of the Croissant Pockets.

Unfortunately, I feel ill.

That same ill feeling you get whenever you eat heavily processed foods. Maybe it's too much sodium or too much preservatives, but it's never very satisfying or fulfilling. I'd much rather have gone to Hooter's and gorged on Mild Wings.

The meal wasn't horrid. I shared it with some Snyder's of Hanover pretzels and washed it all down with a Coke. I decided to go the slow route by sticking it in the toaster over and baking it at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. The bread came out nicely brown, crusty/crunchy and flaky like a good croissant should when heated in a toaster oven. But that's all it is - mostly bread. The meat and cheese part is a disappointment. Light on both and just not very tasty at all. If I'm poisoned by sodium and preservatives, it was in the meat and cheese.

Time for a serious meal at Hooter's.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Wegman's Schmegman's

Recently, the largest Wegman's opened near where I live in the enclave of Hunt Valley. It opened to dramatic fanfare and ridiculous crowds. One of my good friends gushed about it's opening and had to be there for the 7am opening on the first day. Evidently, Wegman's fans from around the nation came to the first opening day too. It seems that there's some sort of fanaticism surrounding Wegman's. And I'm still trying to figure out why.

Okay, it's true that the staff is taken care of. Everyone that I've spoken to likes working there. They say that they'll open more registers when there's a line, and I've seen that happen - which is certainly a tremendous advantage over the other grocery stores that think they should charge you full price to ring your own items on their "automated" systems.

But to me, it's still a "grocery store."

Sure, it's pretty darn large, almost what you'd expect if Walt Disney made a grocery store. There are themed areas, seating areas and it looks very nice, but the crush of the ridiculously insane crowds demands a store this big - and it's still not big enough. So, after parking in Timbuk Two, fighting through Olympic sized (and frenzied) crowds and suffering through disappointment, it's just not worth it for that gallon of milk - even if you want that organic crap that costs six times more.

By now, the Wegman's devotees are planning an assault on my home to take me captive.

It's not all bad news. I absolutely love their subs from the sub shop. The Danny's Way, or whatever it's called, is really quite tasty because the bread just rocks. In fact, I tried a Wegman's baguette and it absolutely rocked. I'm sure the rest of the baked good rock too but I passed because they're just too damn expensive. Three cookies for ten bucks? There are places in Baltimore where sexual favors cost less.

So my friend has been after me since it's opening to change my tune from: "it's just a grocery store" to one that more suits the Wegman's fanaticism, and I really want to become a Wegman's die-hard. I mean really, it's the closest grocery store to my home, but everytime I go there looking for something, Wegman's never fails to disappoint.

Back in the Summer and Fall of 2005, with the impending arrival of the great Wegman's, everyone I knew held bated breath in anticipation. Here was the arrival of the greatest of all grocery stores. The one that would blow away all the competition. It would revolutionize the grocery store industry.

Uh, hello - all of that in an area who's main staple is Hot Pockets?

So, I've been to Wegman's. On many occasion. I went there the first Saturday and the place was SLAMMED. Wall-to-wall people, jostling, hustling and pushing their way about trying to get a taste of the Chinese food bar, or ogling the prepared food reefer case. I walked in, checked it out for about ten minutes and then decided to get the hell outta there. Too many people to fight just for a Coke.

The next time I went with my Wegman's Hardcore friend who wanted me to try the Sub Shop. Okay, I admit, the sub shop rocked and I've gone back a number of times and even sat around at work dreaming about the sub. It's damn good. But the place is usually packed so it's in, grab the sub and get the hell out. Oh, and those jalapeno potato chips are damn good too.

One morning before work, I decided to hit Wegman's at 6:30am to see what kind of pastries they offered and see what the hot bar had for breakfast. You know what the hot bar had? Jack. Not a damn thing except for steaming water. Later, I asked another friend who works in Wegman's produce what the deal was. His reply was that maybe I was expecting too much and that if Wegman's thought it would make money, they would have a breakfast bar. Hmmm, considering the local Super Fresh has a small breakfast bar, I'd say that's One Point for Super Fresh and Zero Points for Wegman's.

When it comes to baked goods, I'm pretty easy. I just want something tasty and reasonably priced. The stuff at Wegman's isn't what I would consider "reasonable" but that didn't matter, because at 6:45am, the bakery had the same thing the hot bar had: Jack. Well, if I really want some incredible pastry, I'll just call Hawthorne Bakery and get them at wholesale. And Hawthorne Rocks The House!

When it comes to meats, most grocery stores don't stock what I'm looking for. Even the specialty butchers don't have what I want. Ever tried looking for Caul Fat in your town and you'll know what I mean. Well, I can get get Caul Fat from the butcher or from my wholesale meat supplier - I just don't want it in 30 pound quantities.

So this weekend I decided that I must have French food and instead of making the trek down to Les Halles in Washington DC, I decided I would stay at home and make something for myself. First, I decided on a meat pate, some onion soup, steak and pasta au gratin (mac 'n cheese). The challenge was the pate, consisting of pork shoulder, pork fat and pork belly.

So I hustle down to Wegman's in the pouring rain. Up until now, everyone I know has been raving about the meat department - how they have "everything." Well, if they have what I'm looking for, perhaps I too can become a fan. First of all, it's a Saturday and probably the absolute worst time to visit Wegman's because this mother is packed to the gills. Ugh. After battling through the produce department, I make my way to the meat counter only to find that they neither carry the pork fat or the pork belly. Disappointment, scratch the pate.

Okay, I'll admit, chances are that no grocery store in Baltimore carries these two items, but they're just "grocery stores,"not the almightly Wegman's. I could have gone to Super Fresh, parked closer and had smaller crowds to deal with because there's nothing left on my shopping list that would qualify as "hard to find" - okay maybe with the exception of the ham.

So mosey on over to the deli case and it's a fifteen minute wait for my number to be called. Crap, what a waste of time. It's not the staff's fault, they're working six deep behind the counter and hustling, there's just a crush of people - mostly rude - who just have to have their half pound of Oscar Meyer Bologna from the classy Wegman's. They don't have the ham I'm looking for, so I select a quick substitute, it looks good. But no, they don't have slab bacon, but they have prepackaged in the cases.

I'm off with an 8z pack of Wegman's lean bacon, pre-sliced. While I was looking over the smaller-than-Super-Fresh selection, another shopper (a lady) makes a comment how she hasn't seen bacon this lean since she was in England. Lean bacon...and that's a good thing?

Emmenthaler and Gruyere. Those are the cheeses I needed for my meal. But how hard is it to find in a cheese department than boasts more than 80 types of cheeses. Not hard. But then again, these aren't hard cheeses to find. The cheese department looked pretty interesting, if you really like soft cheeses mixed with fruits, veggies and who-knows-what else. Me? I'm not much into that kind of thing.

Aside from battling the crowds, the rest of my shopping was uneventful. I found some Wegman's brand penne pasta that turned out to be pretty decent, some Wegman's cereal for the week's breakfast and some powdered chocolate (Hershey's) for dressing drinks at the shop.

I've tried. I've really tried to become a Wegman's convert. But, outside of the subs, it just hasn't swooned me. I want selection (of which Wegman's has a ton of over Super Fresh), but I also want convenience (and the Super Fresh five miles away has that in Spades over the Wegman's one mile away) and how ridiculous is it that it's more "convenient" to drive to a Super Fresh five miles away than the Wegman's? I can get in and buy everything I need and get home before I would ever finish half my shopping in Wegman's.

What a shame. And the coffee sucks.

At the least the register girl was cute.